A group of ministers in South Los Angeles on Monday called some members of the Black Lives Matter movement too aggressive and disrespectful after a town-hall meeting last week with Mayor Eric Garcetti turned chaotic.
The pastors reacted to last Monday's meeting at which demonstrators affiliated with Black Lives Matter and other groups turned their back on Garcetti as he spoke, then moved toward the front of the sanctuary in Holman United Methodist Church, ignoring the pleas of Pastor Kelvin Sauls to remain seated. When the demonstrators refused to return to their seats, Sauls ended the meeting.
"What took place in God's temple was a slap in the face of the entire community," said the Reverend K.W. Tulloss of the Baptist Ministers Conference.
The Black Lives Matter movement has focused on what it sees as unjustified police use of excessive force, along with issues of homelessness and poverty.
"We are not divided in our message," said Paulette Gipson, president of the Compton chapter of the NAACP. "We are divided in our action."
Sauls said members of Black Lives Matter had participated in the planning for the town hall, but gave no indication of any intent to disrupt it. That was "a breach of trust," he said.
"Violence starts with offensive language, being called derogatory names, being cussed at," Sauls said during a news conference on Monday. "I think that's a behavior that, again, is just not acceptable, not just in a sanctuary, but anywhere."
When Sauls cut short last week's town hall, Garcetti left and his car was surrounded by demonstrators. Since then Sauls and others have criticized Black Lives Matter for their tactics.
Demonstrators responded Monday that they did nothing wrong.
"We believe in nonviolent, direct action," said Melina Abdullah, an original member and organizer of Black Lives Matter. Its activists have been critical of Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck regarding LAPD uses of deadly force in a number of cases, including the fatal officer-involved shooting of Ezell Ford in the summer of 2014, shortly after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri focused national attention on the issue.
Activist Najee Ali said he heard a Black Lives Matter activist threaten to beat Sauls if the pastor did not stop telling demonstrators to sit down. Ali showed a photograph he said depicted the moment.
"I'm not aware of anything like that," Abdullah said.
Abdullah and allied activists focused on Garcetti, contending he has failed to live up to a promise he made them during a meeting last June, and avoided open discussion of the issues that concern them.
"He continues to hide," said Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.
White and other Black Lives Matter activists first learned of the town hall from news media, White said. They were allowed to participate in the planning, he acknowledged, but said that at a late stage the ground rules for the town hall were changed, and that led to the protest.
The propriety of using a church for the town hall was also questioned by White, who said the mayor's presence made it a political event.
In criticizing the disruption, clergy members said it was not fair to deprive hundreds of others of their opportunity to participate.
"Whenever your activism outweighs your message, there's something wrong with that," said Tulloss.
The clergy members demanded an apology from Black Lives Matter, but at the same time, expressed their commitment to work with the movement's activists.
"We will come together ... to bury the hatchet," said Rev. Xavier Thompson, pastor of the Southern Missionary Baptist Church.
"It is important for us to unite in moving forward," said Sauls.
After the town hall, planning was initiated for Garcetti to return for Sunay services at Holman Methodist without advance publicity, but the plan was scrubbed after an internal LAPD memo was obtained and posted online.
"I made the decision that day would not be a strategic day," said Sauls.
Mayor Garcettil looks forward to visiting again "soon" with the Holman Methodist congregation, said press secretary Connie Llanos.